Haunted houses can present unique hazards, making them particularly vulnerable to fire and fire injuries if applicable codes are not followed. Even though they are often temporary, they are not exempt from fire safety requirements.
The codes listed below are summarized from Section 20.1.4 of NFPA 1, Fire Code, 2015 Edition, and are not inclusive of all code requirements adopted by the State of Texas.
Purpose: To establish the minimum fire and life safety guidelines for the use and operation of haunted houses in Texas.
Scope: The following guidelines apply to haunted houses, which typically operate during the Halloween season at special community or local fund-raising events. The guidelines also apply to commercial activities such as carnivals and other seasonal amusement activities.
Rules and statute: This document reviews the fire safety requirements imposed by Texas’ rules including:
- Rules: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code
- Statute: Texas Government Code, Title 4 Executive Branch, Subtitle B Law Enforcement and Public Protection, Chapter 417 State Fire Marshal
- Note: the fire code adopted by a local jurisdiction governs which rules apply. In unincorporated areas, the fire code adopted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office applies (NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, 2015 Editions).
The following definitions are summarized from NFPA 1, Fire Code, NFPA 101, Life Safety Code (2015 Edition), and Webster’s Dictionary.
Assembly occupancy. An occupancy (1) used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses; or (2) used as a special amusement building, regardless of occupant load.
Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). An organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure.
Automatic smoke detection system. A system that automatically detects visible or invisible particles of combustion and provides notification of a fire emergency.
Class A rated materials. Fire retardant materials that have a flame spread rating between 0 and 25. These materials are effective against severe fire exposure.
Class B rated materials. Fire retardant materials that have a flame spread rating between 26 and 75. These materials are effective against moderate fire exposure.
Attachment plug (cord cap). A plug usually consisting of a screw-shell body and cap and connecting a flexible conductor to a lamp holder or receptacle.
Control Room. Operations room where the facility can be monitored and controlled.
In May 1984, a fire in the “Haunted Castle” at Six Flags Great Adventure Park in New Jersey resulted in the death of eight visitors.
The haunted house was constructed of seventeen commercial trailers (each about 8-ft. wide by 40-ft. long) connected with plywood. The interior included synthetic foam, various fabrics, plastics, plywood, and tarpaper.
The exact cause of the fire was undetermined. Witnesses indicated they saw a visitor using a cigarette lighter inside the occupancy, possibly igniting the foam insulation.
According to NFPA’s investigation, several significant factors contributed to the loss of life:
- the lack of a fire detection system;
- the lack of a fire sprinkler system;
- the ignition of synthetic foam materials;
- the difficulty of escape from the structure; and
- the use of combustible interior finishes.